By  Kathy Webster, AMT Media Communications Manager

From the shop floor to the sales and marketing office, cloud computing technologies are making a big impact in just about every facet of manufacturing. There is a lot of exploration into how this disruptive technology offers benefits beyond what was first imagined. While cloud computing in manufacturing includes an ecosystem of data and analytics, it reaches far and wide into the areas of machine connectivity, supplier and vendor collaboration and even into transactions. 

For the purposes of this article, “cloud computing” is defined as software-as-a-service, or SaaS, as well as network-accessible apps and platforms. Cloud solutions like these are often quick to roll out and easy to customize. Many also offer 24/7 support, meaning less stress on a company’s IT staff. They are easy to access at any time from anywhere, making them a natural fit for collaboration on supply chain, distribution and service.    

For product development, manufacturers are embracing crowd-source platforms for ideas on new products and designs. This is especially true as pressure mounts for manufacturers to bring products to market more quickly. In the era of the Maker Movement, there is a ready and willing community eager to engage with the industry. Additionally, while acting as a good pool for future product developments, crowd source platforms can also help manufacturers determine how a product might sell, especially for consumer goods. 

On the shop floor, manufacturers are aggregating data to gain insight on machine and equipment performance, part tracking, and even how to optimize shop floor layout.  One example is Zero Downtime (ZDT), FANUC’s diagnostic tool that detects critical information about a robot’s mechanical, maintenance and process/system health to alert customers about potential system or product issues. Customers are notified of robot conditions via their smart device so they can monitor robot status at any time and make informed decisions about service to minimize impact on production. 

Outside the factory, manufacturers are using supplier, distributor, and logistics collaboration platforms to improve communication and visibility between organizations. Sales and marketing teams are using cloud services to track campaign metrics and customer relationships. Support and service teams are able to more responsively address customer needs.  

According to McKinsey & Company, 80 percent of large companies in North America are either planning to use or already are using cloud services. That’s a $100 billion-a-year market and it continues to grow. Manufacturers of all sizes use the cloud for everything from material requirements planning, inventory control and purchasing to accounting, quality and production control. 

The cloud facilitates production of tailored or one-off items with the same efficiency as a large batch and furthers customers’ demand not just for what the customer wants, but when and where the customer wants it.

As manufacturing moves into this connected era, it is possible the cloud will enable “the digital factory to be the social network of the future,” as collaborative innovation expert Mickey McManus boldly declared. Are you logged on?